Social workers in children’s services have an average caseload of 16, according to the government’s best estimate.
The figure, included in a Department for Education (DfE) report on the social work workforce, is a new measure and marks the first time the government has published an estimate of frontline social worker caseloads based on mandatory returns from councils.
The DfE found social workers, including agency staff, held a total of 326,770 cases between them on 30 September 2016. When mapped against the number of case holding roles in children’s services, this was an average of 16.1 per social worker.
The report also revealed councils employed 5,330 agency social workers in children’s services in 2016, up 9.6% on the previous year.
However, the proportion of agency staff covering vacancies dropped from 79.2% to 72.6%, a finding the DfE said could reflect more councils drafting in additional agency social workers to clear “acute” case backlogs or manage seasonal peaks in demand.
The number of permanently employed social workers in children’s services rose 4.7%, from 26,500 in 2015 to 27,700 in 2016. The number of vacant posts rose 1.3%, from 5,470 to 5,540. The turnover rate, an indicator of social workers quitting or switching jobs, dropped from 16% to 15.1%. The absence rate fell from 4% to 3.5%.
The DfE found just over half (54.2%) of social workers in children’s services were in case holding roles, with the others holding management or senior practitioner positions.